“Proverbs are always platitudes until you have personally experienced the truth of them.”
Aldous Huxley (Author; Brave New World)
“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”
Henry David Thoreau (Author; Walden, or Life in the Woods)
“I don’t care what you think about me. I don’t think about you at all.”
Coco Chanel (Designer and Founder; Chanel Brand)
No one wants to follow a cornball into battle.
My senior year of high school our football team moved from the 3A division to the 4A division, which was the biggest division in the state. We lost every game that year except our last game against Gonzaga Prep (they sucked). I remember being in the locker room at half time during one of the mid-season games. We were losing by 14 points and our center, Sean, stood up and gave a short speech to encourage the team. He started by saying “we are going to remember the next 24 minutes for the next 24 years of our lives” and then went on to say a bunch of other stuff, I think, I’m not really sure, I stopped paying attention after he started quoting lines from Varsity Blues.
In college I worked at a grocery store and the store manager had at least 15 of those corporate motivational posters hanging in his office. You know the ones that show pictures of a bridge or a bunch of people holding hands and have captions that say “COLLABORATE” or “TEAMWORK” at the bottom in big block letters. I stopped taking the manager seriously as soon as I saw this wall of shame. It was a snap judgment and it wasn’t fair but I immediately labeled him as a cornball and unfit for leadership. Why?
Self-Help Or Mumbo-Jumbo
The self-help industry is exploding right now and this trend is only going to continue as we keep moving from the information age to the idea age. According to Marketdata Enterprises, Americans alone spent $11 billion in 2008 on self-improvement books, CDs, seminars, coaching and stress-management programs. This is 13.6% more than they spent in 2005. The latest forecasts show that this growth will continue through 2020, and not just in America. Countries like China and India are starting to dive deeply into the personal development industry.
Yet, despite the billions spent on self-help, current numbers show that people are less happy today than they were in 2011. In fact, one study shows that people are less happy today than they were 30 years ago. Research also shows that people are growing up less mentally tough and resilient than they used to be. Why isn’t all of this self-help helping?
10 Self-Help Mistakes To Avoid
Getting motivated is easy. Getting results is not. The problem with a lot of self-help and personal development programs is that they focus too much on inspiration and not enough on action. This is because feel-good fluff is easy to create. Google is clogged with fluffy content. Fluff is everywhere now. And it’s suffocating everyone. The only way to fight the fluff is by getting real and focusing on purpose, action, and reality. This means learning how to be positive and encouraging without being corny. The key is avoiding these common self-help mistakes:
Mistake #1. Being optimistic (without being aggressive).
Platitudes and happy thoughts don’t make people stronger. Getting your ass handed to you, learning from it, and going back for more makes you stronger. In The Survivor’s Club, author Ben Sherwood reveals that optimistic people – people who hope for the best but don’t take action – are the first to die when stranded at sea or imprisoned in war camps. On the other hand, people he describes as fighters and information seekers survive the longest.
These fighters and seekers aren’t cynical, they’re obsessively hopeful. But they’re also ruthlessly realistic. Most importantly, they measure their results and adjust course in response to their measurements.
There’s nothing corny about being hopeful. The key is to create a vision for what you want and then to get to work forcing your vision into existence. You can keep your head in the clouds but don’t forget to get your hands dirty.
Mistake #2. Always asking for opinions.
I like watching creative people accept awards. Every now and then they’ll give you a glimpse into their creative process, including how they stay inspired and keep coming up with cool ideas. One of my favorite acceptance speeches was given by Quentin Tarantino at the 2013 Golden Globe Awards when he won Best Screenplay for Django Unchained. During the speech, he thanked his group of friends for listening to him talk out his ideas for different movie scenes without them offering any advice or feedback whatsoever. According to Tarantino, this process allows him to hear his ideas through other people’s ears without getting his ideas contaminated. He goes on to say that his process encourages him more than anything else he does.
In the same way, you should constantly externalize your goals and the overall vision you have for your life. But, when you do, don’t expect other people to validate you. And don’t ask for their opinions. This will help you keep your edge. Too many opinions have a way of turning a hard purpose into a soft and shifty wish. Watch Tarantino’s speech here starting at minute 1.41.
Mistake #3. Being vulnerable (without being confident).
There are limits to how vulnerable you should be. Too much vulnerability, by itself, turns people into crybabies. If you talk about your feelings without following it up fairly quickly with action, you’re wasting your time (and everyone else’s time). A better goal is to be authentic. Authenticity is a combination of vulnerability and confidence. It’s not an easy combination to pull off.
It might take you a little time to figure out the best course of action, but your goal should always be to move from thinking and feeling to action as quickly as possible.
Mistake #4. Relying too much on other people.
The Universe trends towards disorder. Things don’t just happen. Nothing magically falls into place. Anything left to chance will go wrong. Other people will not act on your behalf or promote your interests without reason. And this is all great news. It means that life is 100% fair.
If you want something done right, do it yourself. If you want someone to do something for you, give him or her a real reason to do it. Pay them or appeal to their self-interest in some other way.
Create order. Control everything you can or get someone else to control it for you. Ignore everything you can’t control but realize that you can usually control more than you think.
Mistake #5. Caring what others think of you.
I read the book The Fountainhead in college and there’s this great scene where a character named Ellsworth Toohey, after spending several years trying to destroy the reputation of a brilliant architect named Howard Roark, finally meets Roark face-to-face.
When they meet, Toohey says, “Why don’t you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear us.”
“But I don’t think of you.”
The end. That was Roark’s only reply.
Toohey spent his life obsessing over Roark and trying to destroy him. But Roark hardly even knew that Toohey existed. Roark was too focused on his own life and his own goals.
If you don’t get the point here, you should probably just stop reading and turn on TMZ or Entertainment Tonight.
Mistake #6. Toning down your personality.
I don’t think having a big ego is a bad thing. Your ego is really just your sense of self. It’s your identity. With this definition, you should have a very strong ego. The problem is that most people have a very weak sense of self but they have a very strong desire to look good and be cool.
If you spend all of your time trying to be cool, you’ll never have an impact. Instead of focusing on being cool, focus on finding your purpose in life. Then turn that purpose into an actionable message that other people can relate too.
Yes, your message should be bigger than yourself. But if it’s not, don’t tone down your personality, tone up your message.
Mistake #7. Quoting other people only.
If you don’t have any good stories to share then you need to live more and share less. Stop yapping and sharing content online and start taking some risks. Build something. Have a real experience. Then share it.
When you do share, create words that are worth quoting. Don’t just quote other people. Quote yourself.
Mistake #8. Leading from the front or behind.
Lead by example without acting better than the people you’re leading. Make it your mission to bring people to your current position. And resist the temptation to hold them back when they catch up with you.
Instead of holding people back or pushing them forward, lead from the side.
Mistake #9. Being squishy.
It’s easy to jump onto the squishy side of self-help. The squishy side is where people do nothing more than think positive, share feelings, and write down how much they love themselves and humanity. What about the hard side of self-help?
I went to a Tony Robbins’ Date With Destiny seminar (I know, it sounds corny) a couple of years ago. The week leading up to the event, I started getting hesitant. I was concerned the seminar was going to be full of a bunch of foo-foo cornball nonsense that only really feminine people would identify with.
The first day of the seminar, Robbins started telling a story about his son being caught smoking pot by the police. He was drawing big circles on a white board that signified how much time his son was going to spend working versus hanging out with his friends. The first circle he drew took up the whole board. As Robbins was drawing the circle, he continued his story and said, “You see this big f*cking circle right here son, this is your work circle.” Then he nicked the board with his marker so it made a small dot and said, “This is your hanging out with your f*cking friends circle.”
Wait, Tony Robbins cusses? He has family problems? After I heard this story, I was locked in for the rest of the seminar. Why?
Helping people requires realism. This means telling real stories and tapping into your masculine side, not just your feminine side. Everyone has both, but when it comes to self-help, most people make the mistake of being too feminine. Try butching it up a bit. Your personal development will go a lot further if you play to both sides.
Mistake #10. Regurgitating information (without contributing).
I’ve heard people call the blogosphere an echo chamber. And it’s kind of true. Most people who write stuff online are just repeating what they’ve read in books and other blogs. As a result, the internet is stuffed with wannabes.
In graduate school, the difference between a masters degree and a doctorate was made very clear to me. A masters degree is given to people who master a particular field while a doctoral degree is given to people who contribute to a field. If you’re not contributing, you’re just imitating.
Contribute by turning your personal and professional life into a lab. Start experimenting at work, with your own business, or with any other part of your life.
Experimentation is the only way to contribute to a field. Anything less is regurgitation.
What’s the corniest thing you’ve ever experienced?
Whether it was something you read or something your boss did, I’d love to hear from you.
Leave a comment below to let me know.
Be specific in your comment because thousands of people visit this blog each week and what you say could be the one thing that helps someone else put their dent in the Universe.